Lois Norder Among Americas Best Newspaper Editors

By Dave Lieber/Founder, Watchdog Nation

 When one of my journalistic heroes, the irascible Jimmy Breslin, columnist of New York City, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986, he said to everyone in his cheering newsroom these words about his editor:

 “This award actually goes to Sharon Rosenhause, but I’m not speaking to her.”

 As I celebrate the 19th anniversary of my stay at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as metro columnist, I say almost the same about my editor:

 “This award actually goes to Lois Norder, and I AM speaking to her.”

 This year, a year for which I will be forever grateful, my Watchdog column won local, state and national awards.

 Nowhere on the awards, though, does the name Lois Norder appear alongside mine. A terrible oversight.  One that needs to be corrected. Have you heard of Lois Norder? Probably not. Yet she’s one of America’s top newspaperwomen.

One of America's top journalists

Lois Norder, Managing Editor/News & Investigations

 I know this because I have worked for her for 19 years. How many can say they’ve had the same boss for two decades? And not just any boss, but a boss who lifts you up and helps you see the big picture, the vision you must deliver to your readers week in and week out to stay vital in their busy lives. Simply put, unlike anyone I know, I’ve worked for the same great boss for 19 years. And that made all the difference.

 Texas is, more than anything else, a place to find your dreams. And so I had come to Texas to pursue my Breslinesque dream of writing columns that helped people live better lives. I left a newspaper with a paid Sunday circulation 10 times larger than the circulation of the edition at my new job at the Star-Telegram. In retrospect, it’s a good thing circulation wasn’t larger. I was no good.

 How could I be? I was making a leap of faith that things would work out in this strange new place of Texas, far, far from my hometown of Manhattan. At first, though, nothing worked. I was a tepid Yankee writer struggling in “Foat Worth” — where the West begins.

 My No. 1 boss struggled, too, with my style, my writer’s voice, my choice of story ideas. She was unhappy with me. Nobody liked my work, including me. The No. 2 editor in the office was quieter, more nurturing and smart as hell. She took an opposite tact. She worked with me, slowly and carefully, building my confidence. Then she did what every writer in the world needs to succeed. She began to talk me up. Told anyone who’d listen that I wasn’t nearly as bad as No. 1 and everyone else, including me, believed. She saw something that nobody else did. Lois Norder was my first Texas defender.

 When she was promoted to the No. 1 job and became my direct supervisor, she taught me how to pursue a higher level of story, looking into the reasons why problems happened, and what can be done to fix and change them for the better. That quest to look at problems in different ways, more than anything else, allows our partnership to thrive in an industry that as a whole isn’t doing so well. We’re not here to tell the public how to think, but give them information so they can decide for themselves.

 In 2005, Norder and Executive Editor Jim Witt created a different kind of column. They called it The Watchdog. Then they cut my leash and told me to run. Woof!

 The first house ads in the paper promised readers:  “Finally, you’ve got somebody in your corner.” The universal scope of The Watchdog was laid out for all: “If you feel stonewalled at City Hall or need help holding businesses to their promises, count on The Watchdog to be in your corner. Dave Lieber will let readers know what needs to be fixed in our community, and who’s responsible. But he’ll also offer stories about governments, businesses and organizations which do things right, along with consumer alerts and ways to protect your interests.”

Dave Lieber, award-winning investigative columnist

 And that’s what we did together. Since March 18, 2005 with a debut story about a travel club that promised free airline tickets but never delivered, a hundred times a year, each year, my boss and I are here to help. Whether a city hall tipster wants the boss’ extravagances exposed, or an elderly woman can’t get $4,000 that an insurance company owes her, The Watchdog swoops in and lives a comic-book fantasy.

 Here’s a short video showing the boss and I that Star-Telegram Managing Editor/Digital News Kathy Vetter made for the 2012 Texas Associated Press Managing Editors’ conference. It’s called Rescuing Mr. Benson.

 A few years ago, I compiled everything I learned from both Norder and from the stories we worked on together and created a philosophy of self-protection and self-preservation called Watchdog Nation. The accompanying book was dedicated to “Lois Norder – Editor, mentor and friend.” The book won a couple of national indie book awards for social change. (The newly-released 2012 edition made its debut on TV.) 

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

 

 There’s a picture of us inside, with me dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform.

 She doesn’t get her name on my stories, or on the awards. But her influence hangs over each word. In a world of bad bosses, everyone deserves at least one great one in their life. I’m luckier than most. So that’s why these awards go to Lois Norder of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and most definitely, I am speaking to her.

 # # #

 Dave and Lois shared these awards in 2012.

 Local: The Fort Worth Society of Professional Journalists, 1st place for First Amendment Awards for reporting on open government.

 State: The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, honorable mention for community service.

 National: The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, 2nd place in general-interest columns for large metro newspapers.

 The judge in that contest, Tom Ferrick Jr., former metro columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, writes: “If I were a government official in Texas and picked up the phone to hear, ‘This is Dave Lieber,’ my heart would skip a beat. And not from joy. Lieber is a classic watchdog journalist, looking out for the little guy – and he gets results. While it’s admirable that he is an ombudsman, it’s his flair and skill as a writer that earn him this award.”

 Read the web version of some of the prize-winning Watchdog columns:

 160  constituents make a difference with bill on North Texas Tollway Authority

 Fort Worth Official resigns after boss finds backlog of open-records requests

 Investors in Bless 7 financial program start complaining

 # # #

 The Watchdog appears regularly in the Star-Telegram here.

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Comments

  1. I love that you give recognition to Lois Norder. Great editors empower great columnists, and thus do an enormous service to the community. From now on, I'll be sure to congratulate the both of you on future awards!

  2. Lois is a watchdog's best friend! I had a wonderful boss like that once, too. You are fortunate to have worked with Lois so long. Congratulations to the both of you. I bet she is proud that the underdog became a top dog.

  3. Scott Bradley says

    I am very glad to see public credit for Lois. She deserves it. From comments dropped by Dave, I have for many years been aware of Dave's admiration and respect for Lois and her handling of her responsibilities at the S-T. And I know both first hand and from her reporters of her courage in letting her reporters and columnists write about the attempts of interlopers to dismantle Westlake in the 1990's. Truly, I saw the free press at its best, exercising its freedom to report events truthfully, just the way our founders intended.

    I, too, admire her greatly!

  4. Terrie Turner says

    Great story! You have a heart as big as Texas and are doggone smart too. Lois is a wise woman, a visionary that recognized talent and pushed through the politics. No doubt she's glad she did. And, she may be the best boss next to Doug Johnson! 😉 Now, can't wait to see the story that won over lunch with me and Dean!

  5. This story about Lois Norder makes my day! The support and encouragement from Lois that David writes about should be made into required reading for evey boss.
    Sadly, I am reading it after learning that the Star-Telegram has made an incredibly stupid decision to lay her off!

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  1. […] In 2012, Dave won national, state and local journalism awards for his exposes on behalf of open government in Texas. Read about them here. […]